Depending on what kind of operation you run, your calving season is in full swing, just getting started, or quickly approaching. Wherever you are at, a successful season starts with preparation and that includes having the right supplies. These are the things we cannot do without….
We start our checks weeks before we are supposed to start calving. We take the 4-wheeler through the herd looking for signs of a cow in labor. Depending on the temperature, we check every 2-4 hours, even into the night. That is where the spotlight comes in handy.
We try to let our cows calve outside. However, if she is attempting to deliver in a snowbank, a puddle, or it is too cold, she is brought into the calving barn. If the calf is already on the ground we load it into the calf sled and pulled to the nursery or barn. The barn is used if it is cold enough that the calf’s ears become frostbitten or if it becomes chilled. If it does get chilled, into the calf warmer it goes.
- Calf Sled
- OB Sleeves
- OB Chains
- Clean bucket
- Disinfectant Solution
- Oral Enema Bag
- Iodine Spray
- Identification system (Tagger, Tags, and Tag Pen)
- Bander and Bands
- Maternity Chute
- Calf Warmer
If a cow is struggling or the calf is presenting abnormally, we intervene, run the cow into the maternity chute, and investigate. Sometimes all it takes is a pair of OB gloves and some gentle downward pulling with your hands. If it is more serious, a bucket of warm water, your disinfectant solution, OB chains and handles are in order.
A calf should present with the front feet pointing out and the head resting on top of the front legs, like someone diving into the water. If this is not the case, do your best to reposition the calf. Sometimes there is trouble from being shoulder or hip locked. This is where we would loop the OB chains, once above the second joint (from the bottom) and then once more above the first joint. This is to avoid injuring the calf. Remember to pull with the OB Handles as the cow is pushing/contracting. Take your time and let the cow do as much of the work as possible.
Once the calf hits the ground, we spray Iodine on its naval, tag, band if needed, and make sure that the calf has nursed within the first hour or so. If the calf is having trouble nursing, we evaluate that cow’s udder and teats in the maternity pen. Are the teats completely open? Does she have an adequate milk? Does she have mastitis?
If the calf is not strong enough to nurse, we will do one of two things:
- Milk out the cow and tube the calf with an enema bag,
- Mix up synthetic colostrum and tube the calf.
Tubing a calf takes skill. You can very easily drown a calf so be incredibly careful if you decide to do it yourself. Remember, if the calf is cold, it is CRUCIAL to warm that calf up (approx. 100°) before giving it any nutrients.
Most of these supplies are used for worst-case scenarios and are not always needed. Excellent herd health and records are crucial to developing a low-maintenance calving season. Over the years, we have carefully selected cows that calve easily, are easy to work with once they have their calf, and calves that are vigorous once they hit the ground. When those preparations are not enough, that is when it pays to be prepared with additional supplies.
We pray you find yourself prepared for this year’s calf crop and may God bless you with heavy steers and maternally driven replacement females that arrive effortlessly.